Anderson Cooper 360

Therapy to change 'feminine' boy created a troubled man, family says

Editor's note: Tune in to AC360° beginning at 10pm ET for Part 2 of "The Sissy Boy Experiment."

Los Angeles (CNN) - Kirk Andrew Murphy seemed to have everything to live for.

He put himself through school. He had a successful 8-year career in the Air Force. After the service, he landed a high profile position with an American finance company in India.

But in 2003 at age 38, Kirk Murphy took his own life.

A co-worker found him hanging from the fan of his apartment in New Delhi. His family has struggled for years to understand what happened.

"I used to spend so much time thinking, why would he kill himself at the age of 38? It doesn't make any sense to me," said Kirk's sister, Maris Murphy. "What I now think is I don't know how he made it that long."

After Kirk's death, Maris started a search that would uncover a dark family secret. That secret revealed itself during a phone conversation with her older brother Mark, who mentioned his distrust of any kind of therapy.

"Don't you remember all that crap we went through at UCLA?" he asked her. Maris was too young to remember the details, but Mark remembered it vividly as a low point in their lives.

Wanting a 'normal life'

Kirk Murphy was a bright 5-year-old boy, growing up near Los Angeles in the 1970s. He was the middle child, with big brother Mark, 8, and little sister Maris, just a baby at 9 months. Their mother, Kaytee Murphy, remembers Kirk's kind nature, "He was just very intelligent, and a sweet, sweet, child." But she was also worried.

"Well, I was becoming a little concerned, I guess, when he was playing with dolls and stuff," she said. "Playing with the girls' toys, and probably picking up little effeminate, well, like stroking the hair, the long hair and stuff. It just bothered me that maybe he was picking up maybe too many feminine traits." She said it bothered her because she wanted Kirk to grow up and have "a normal life."

Then Kaytee Murphy saw a psychologist on local television.

"He was naming all of these things; 'If your son is doing five of these 10 things, does he prefer to play with girls' toys instead of boys' toys?' Just things like this," she said.

The doctor was on TV that day, recruiting boys for a government-funded program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Well, him being the expert, I thought, maybe I should take Kirk in," said Kaytee Murphy. "In other words, nip it in the bud, before it got started any further."

Kirk becomes 'Kraig'

Kaytee Murphy took Kirk to UCLA, where he was treated largely by George A. Rekers, a doctoral student at the time.

In Rekers' study documenting his experimental therapy, he writes about a boy he calls "Kraig." Another UCLA gender researcher confirmed that "Kraig" was a pseudonym for Kirk.

The study, later published in an academic journal, concludes that after therapy, "Kraig's" feminine behavior was gone and he became "indistinguishable from any other boy."

"Kraig, I think, certainly was Rekers' poster boy for what Rekers was espousing for young children," said Jim Burroway, a writer and researcher who has studied Rekers' work.

"We have been wondering where is Kraig? A lot of us have talked about it. Where is he today? Is he married or is he gay? Or specifically does he even know that Rekers has been writing about him?" said Burroway. "I found 17 different articles, books, chapters, that he has written in which he talked about Kraig."

Rekers' work with Kirk Murphy helped him build a three-decade career as a leading national expert in trying to prevent children from becoming gay, a career as an anti-gay champion that would later be tainted by his involvement in an embarrassing scandal.